What started out as a push for higher wages at fast-food chains in the US has gone global as thousands of employees unite under #fastfoodglobal and strike for better pay and working conditions.
On Thursday (15.5.2014), employees at McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC, started their working day with banners and blocked doors. In more than 30 countries, from the US to Japan and New Zealand, workers at fast food chains gathered outside their workplaces as part of a global protest demanding better pay and working conditions. Under the twitter hashtag #fastfoodglobal, their cause quickly garnered international attention as photos and tweets showing angry workers and customers started appearing on the Internet.
The employees, in most cases part-time workers, were protesting low pay and poor working conditions. Their complaints: no health insurance or other social benefits, lack of overtime pay and absence of paid holiday time-off. In some places, the right to form a union without retaliation is a key demand.
The protest movement started in the US as an organized campaign by the Service Employees International Union to bring attention to the plight of low-wage workers in the food sector. In the US, where fast food chains and their workers are readily visible in nearly every town, the strategy was designed to get the public behind the idea of a $15-an-hour wage.
President Barack Obama is currently working to increase the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That translates into about $15,000 a year for a full-time job. Businesses have opposed the wage increase, saying it would prevent them from creating new jobs, cause them to reduce employee numbers and ultimately result in higher prices for the consumer.
Workers at the fast food restaurants complain their earnings are not enough to live on.
Mary Kay Henry, the International President of the Service Employees International Union in the US encouraged workers around the world to join the campaign.
Throughout Europe and in some Asian countries union organizations got behind the protest movement of the fast-food employees and brought the campaign to their regions. The Nordic Union of food workers covering Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland released a statement urging people to "do their part" by joining the protests Thursday.
Protests in Asia
Workers in Japan have also been protesting with strikes organized in 30 cities. And it wasn't just protest aimed against the western chains.
China has over 2,000 McDonald's stores and almost 5,000 KFC stores, but no protest activity was planned Thursday. Independent trade unions are illegal in China. In Indonesia, police turned out to monitor the protests.
@LowPayisNotOK on Twitter is trying to obtain signatures for an online petition to protest low wages in the US. It has also been active in reposting and commenting on global action to demand higher wages.
Despite being called the largest fast-food strike in history, #fastfoodglobal and the street protests have not had much impact on the industry. McDonald's and Burger King, the two biggest fast food chains in the US, have not issued an official response to the protest on May 15. And over the last 18 months of on-again and off-again strikes in the US, no major restaurant chain has announced plans to significantly raise their employee’s pay.